Sue Ontiveros: The real life of a single mom

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Michele Weldon, author of “Escape Points.” / Provided photo from

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You hear the phrase “single mom” so often.

A friend will point out another woman and say, “She’s a single mom,” or a person on a TV talk show will describe herself that way. Our general response is a knowing “Oh,” as if the title tells all.

After reading “Escape Points” by local author Michele Weldon, I think that unless you’re a single mom, the rest of us have no idea what that actually means and entails.

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I’ve been reading the award-winning journalist’s work since she wrote columns about what sounded like an idyllic family life years ago in the Chicago Tribune. But that wasn’t the entire story.

As she recounted later in “I Closed My Eyes,” Weldon’s now ex-husband physically and verbally abused her. “I Closed My Eyes” captures a vivid picture of the cycle of abuse, but also provides hope to other women that there is a way out.

When I finished that powerful book, I remember thinking, oh good, he’s out of her life and can’t hurt her anymore.

Turns out that’s a good and bad thing, we discover in “Escape Points,” because as time goes on he is less and less a part of their sons’ lives. Or, as she so heartbreakingly describes it in the book:

“His presence in the boys’ lives was disintegrating incrementally, like a Polaroid photo that extinguishes itself in a closed drawer, the colors fading into greenish-yellow until the image is gone.”

While the support and interaction had been waning, quite suddenly he moves to Europe and then she’s it, parenting-wise. True, Weldon tells readers often how supportive her siblings (a wonderful bunch), close friends and other moms have been. Yet there are some roles only she can fulfill. Children have to know there is a constant parental source, one steady and permanent, that doesn’t leave, and in the case of single parents like Weldon, she has to be the one providing it.

She candidly berates herself for not having picked a better partner because of the impact that’s had on her boys, something I bet rings true for many a single parent. In “Escape Points” we see a mother determined to not let them feel less of themselves because of their father’s actions. (Eventually he does return.) Everything she does — and wow, it’s a lot — is for her sons.

A pamphlet’s arrival in the mail results in all three getting into wrestling, a sport pitting one individual against another. Having no dad to coach you on doesn’t matter.

Wrestling, it turns out, provides many metaphors for what’s going on in their lives. (The book’s title is a wrestling term, if you’re wondering.) Her sons learn not only to be the best at their sport, but how to handle what life throws their way.

Wrestling also brings into her sons’ lives one heck of a coach, someone who shows by example how to be a good, honorable man.

The writing is beautiful, as always, and the unexpected twists — one in particular — sure are surprising. Through it all, Weldon just keeps doing what she has to do.

Don’t worry, this is no pity party, but the author does address delicate subjects — juggling work (and not being ashamed of embracing one’s career), dating as a single mom, shielding children from the emotional pain of an absent father — with much honesty and very often, humor.

You come away from “Escape Points” with a different understanding — and profound respect — for single parents everywhere.


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